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US raises military aid to Philippines amid sea tension with China

U.S. President Barack Obama tours the Philippine Navy's BRP Gregorio Del Pilar with the ship's commanding officer Captain Vincent Sibala (R) at Manila Harbor in Manila, Philippines, November 17, 2015. Photo: Reuters

The United States has raised its military aid to the Philippines this year to $79 million, the U.S. ambassador said on Wednesday, as tension rises in the region over China's new assertiveness in the South China Sea.

Since 2002, the United States has provided the Philippines with nearly $500 million in military assistance as well as various types of military equipment.

"We have upped our foreign military funding for the Philippines," Ambassador Philip Goldberg told ANC television, without giving a percentage. "It will be somewhere in the range of $79 million this year. It's increasing and what has been proposed is something called a maritime security initiative in the region."

China has overlapping claims with Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei in the South China Sea, through which $5 trillion in ship-borne trade passes every year.

Reclamation work and the building of three airfields and other facilities on some of China's artificial islands in the Spratly archipelago have alarmed the region and raised concern in Washington that China is extending its military reach deep into maritime Southeast Asia.

Washington announced earlier it had allocated $50 million in aid to Manila this year. The Philippines remains one of the largest recipients of military aid in the region, focusing on building capability for the navy and air force to guard the South China Sea.

Last week, before attending a regional economic summit, U.S. President Barack Obama boarded a Hamilton-class cutter converted into a frigate by the Philippines, a display of maritime security support for its closest ally in Southeast Asia.

Goldberg said the third Hamilton-class coast guard cutter would be arriving late next year while an old maritime research ship would be transferred by the middle of 2016.

Philippine defense and military officials said two U.S. Marines C-130 transport planes and about eight amphibious assault vehicles were also due next year.

The Pentagon has announced it is committing $119 million this year to help develop Southeast Asian maritime capabilities and will provide $140 million next year to allies, including Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam and the Philippines.

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